by Jeanne Gehret

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Tall white church steeple surrounded by trees
Federated Church, Edgartown, MA, photo by Jeanne Gehret

Last night my husband and I attended our Presbyterian service of Maundy Thursday to commemorate the evening of the Last Supper when Jesus was betrayed. Afterward, we accepted an invitation to participate in a seder meal with the Congregation Etz Chaim, just down the road from our church.  

As the evening concluded, we prayed for the peace of the whole world. Now, every time when Passover (and Easter) roll around, I will remember that the Jewish people pray for me and mine during their ritual dinner.

I have visited centers of spirituality in mosques, synagogues, churches, meditation centers, and the natural cathedrals that we call forests. At different times in my life, various kinds of religious expression have been more helpful than other types. And from what I can see, this was true of the Anthony family, as well. Throughout their history, they showed quite a bit of diversity in their approach to religion.

Anthony family religious membership

When Lucy and Daniel Anthony Sr. first began raising their family in Adams, Massachusetts, Daniel was a Hicksite Quaker who insisted that his new Baptist wife abandon singing and dancing to honor his religious tradition. In accord with Hicksite customs, Daniel and his children worshipped with long periods of communal silence, and he frowned on childhood pursuits of toys, games, and music that could distract his offspring from the Inner Light.1

In 1845, when the Anthonys were recovering from bankruptcy, Daniel and Lucy decided to start over by moving to Rochester, NY where the Hicksites became like a second family to them. Over time, the father allowed his two youngest children to take music lessons, which may explain the presence of a piano in photos of Mary Anthony’s parlor. This Quaker sect centered less on worship and more on activism.

Eventually, many of these Quakers became even more radical by mixing with non-Quakers and devoting themselves to complete gender and racial equality. They were heavily involved in the first Woman’s Rights Meeting in Seneca Falls in 1848.

By 1849, when dissension among the Hicksites caused another Quaker split, about 200 of their members joined Rochester’s Unitarian Church, a non-creedal center of spirituality, social concerns, music, and arts.

Religious observance among Lucy and Daniel’s children

The liberal preaching of William Henry Channing, the Unitarians’ abolitionist minister, particularly attracted Susan and Mary Anthony. Mary said that his preaching in 1852 “proved so satisfactory that it was not long before this was our accepted church home.”

The same article quotes Susan’s friend and co-worker Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who said in 1898, “She first found words to express her convictions in listening to Rev. William Henry Channing, whose teaching had a lasting spiritual influence upon her.”

Though the Unitarian Church known by the Anthonys burned, today’s building boasts a large, beautiful image of Susan.

Like his father, Susan’s brother Daniel Read Anthony (D.R.) was called into account by the Quakers, but for a weightier reason than marrying a Baptist. In 1863, after D.R. had killed someone in a street fight, Hicksite elders wrote asking him to justify his violent actions. Though he managed to placate them, there’s no evidence that he ever participated in Quaker worship afterwards in Leavenworth—or in any other kind of worship, for that matter.

D.R. was well-known in Kansas. An early settler and newspaper publisher, he also served for various periods as postmaster and mayor. He made it a point to encourage the proliferation of places of worship—probably backing up his verbal approval with charitable contributions. This was especially true in the tiny town of Huron, KS, which grew up around his large stock farm. Whether from an honest appreciation for the civilizing effects of organized religion or a desire to be on good terms with townsfolk, D.R. supported an ecumenical mix of houses of worship in Huron and Leavenworth.

Annie Anthony: more traditional religion

That is not to say, however, that D.R.’s wife Annie followed his example. Raised in the shadow of the Congregational Church on Martha’s Vineyard, she undoubtedly received a Christian upbringing because her father was an alderman. Though her marriage to D.R. occurred in January (probably a difficult month to reach Annie’s island home), the wedding took place in her own church.

After their nuptials and Annie’s move to Leavenworth, numerous newspaper accounts mention her singing at churches around town. For her own part, she chose St. Paul’s Episcopal as her church home (pictured behind me in the above video) and, after she died in the Los Angeles area, that congregation held her memorial service.

In addition to providing avenues for expression of a relationship with God, faith communities offer us support beyond our kin for living out our faith and for navigating life’s ups and downs. All the Anthonys, with the probable exception of D.R., seemed to have found meaning among such like-minded gatherings.

In my next post on Mary Anthony, we’ll explore how participation in the work of the Unitarian Church offered an outlet for her giving nature.

  1. Barry, Kathleen: Susan B. Anthony: a Biography. New York University Press, 1988, p. 11 

2 Comments

  1. Kathleen M Peters April 10, 2023 at 10:46 am - Reply

    Thanks Jeanne! You are giving me a greater knowledge of the SBA family! Loving the info!!!

    • Jeanne Gehret May 6, 2023 at 7:18 pm - Reply

      The more I learn about them, the more I appreciate them. I wish I had a clone to do research OR writing so I could give myself completely to one. But which one would I give to the clone? I love both aspects.

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